As the refugee crisis continues to unfold, an interfaith prayer vigil took place outside Westminster Cathedral on 8 September. Organised by CitizensUK, the vigil featured testimonies from refugees from past crises, prayers offered up by Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, and an invitation to offer practical support to refugees escaping violence in their homelands.
Representing Cardinal Vincent, Bishop Nicholas spoke about his experience of visiting Iraq with the Cardinal earlier in the year, saying, '“We call them not refugees but relatives.”
'That was what Cardinal Vincent and I were told when we visited a refugee camp near Syria, in Iraq. Of all the words spoken to us, these were the most important.'
Bishop Nicholas went on to deliver the following message from Cardinal Vincent to all who were assembled at the vigil:
'We gather here tonight to mark one of the gravest crises that any of us will have seen in in our lifetimes.
'Across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe we can witness millions of people traumatised and displaced by war.
'As Pope Francis said so powerfully on Sunday that demands us to open our hearts in generosity and service to those who have lost everything. Your presence here tonight is proof of the solidarity that over the coming months and years will be needed to help receive and settle thousands of people.
'As a Catholic community, we have an essential role to play, along with civil society and local and national government, to ensure that our country plays its part in meeting the challenge to give compassionately in the way Pope Francis has called us to.
'The flight of innocent people from their home countries is among the most profound consequences of armed conflict.
'As we respond to this historic crisis, let us never overlook the reason why so many are leaving everything behind and risking their lives to reach Europe.
'They are driven here by violence that has robbed them of their security, their shelter, and their livelihoods.
'They are driven here by the most basic human need to protect themselves and their families from the senseless killing that is engulfing entire nations.
'Let us pray then, for peace in the words of Pope St John Paul II:
'"Hear my voice, for it is the voice of the victims of all wars and violence among individuals and nations.
'"Hear my voice, for it is the voice of all children who suffer and will suffer when people put their faith in weapons and war.
'"Hear my voice when I beg You to install into the hearts of all human beings the wisdom of peace, the strength of justice, and the joy of fellowship.
'"Hear my voice, for I speak for the multitudes in every country and in every period of history who do not want war and are ready to walk the road of peace.
'"Hear my voice and grant insight and strength so that we may always respond to hatred with love, to injustice with total dedication to justice, to need with the sharing of self, to war with peace.
'"O God, hear my voice and grant unto the world Your everlasting peace. Amen."
'Refugees are victims of war.
'They are also our brothers and sisters. Let us welcome them as such – in this country’s long tradition of sanctuary.
'Every one of us can play our part in a real and practical way, to promote and protect the human dignity of those who have lost everything to conflict.
'Let us be generous with our time, our skills, and our resources.
'And let us respond to the horrors of conflict with the power of compassion.'
Information and resources providing guidance for individuals and parishes is being made available by the Bishops' Conference here. In the diocese, Caritas Westminster has been designated to coordinate parish responses.
In a visible show of prayer and solidarity with the refugees, participants were asked to hold their candles high as the evenig ended.